While every Quodoushka spiritual sexuality workshop I have taught סדנת מיניות לנשים been a remarkably healing experience, once every twenty years or so, something truly extraordinary happens…
I’ll start by explaining how two Massai women from a rural village in Kenya managed to attend a Quodoushka sexuality workshop in Phoenix Arizona. In 2007, Annetta Luce, a friend I met during an Australian “Q,” volunteered to go to Africa to work and live with a local family. After returning to the U.S., she was later contacted by Jane, a woman from the same Kenyan village who was now in Philadelphia, seeking asylum to remain in the USA.
Jane is the mother of three children, including a 12-year old daughter, Esther. Like all women in the Massai tribe, Jane was “cut” as a child, near the same age as her own daughter and soon thereafter pledged by her father into an arranged marriage.
I must admit, I had heard about the “cut,” a primitive form of female genital mutilation. I read that it is done by women who, to this day, physically hold down the young girls, cut off their clitorises with a knife and then pour cow’s urine over the open wound. Yes, I knew of this gory insanity, but it seemed like yet another God-awful, far-away, unsolvable problem – that is, until Jane came into my living room.
I was immediately smitten by the grace of her quiet, yet formidable determination to prevent her daughter from suffering a similar fate. I was floored by her audacity to stand up against tribal elders, to rebel against the bondage and beatings, to earn the money, to overcome anything that would dare stand in the way of her love for her daughter…and her intelligence. You see, according to Massai custom, if the mother is alive, but not physically in the village, the elders may not perform the “cut.” By seeking asylum here, refusing to return to Kenya, she forestalls the process.
As I share the details of Jane’s story, I must explain that I have had but a brief glimpse of a complex situation and I make no claims to understand the nuances of Massai customs or culture. It wasn’t my idea for Jane to come to a Quodoushka – it was her idea. She told the story of her daughter at our Tigress Moon Woman’s Group heard about the Q and promptly decided she would attend with Agnes, a Massai friend living in the US who also managed to escape after being beaten for refusing as a girl, to marry a sixty year old man.
Unfortunately, their stories are not unique and escapes are rare.
Jane and Agnes Attend the Quodoushka Workshop
There are times as a teacher when you are not sure who is teaching who.
We all inevitably fell in love with Jane and Agnes. Gradually, without pomp or proclamation in front of the group, during shy personal conversations with each of them, we realized the cultural tsunami that was occurring in our midst.
First, they tell me that if I had been seen wearing what I wore at the Q in their Massai village I would be speared. (Hey, it was just a pair of red chaps…)
As we begin, I ask Jane, “Are you nervous?”
She replies with a dead pan, flat, “No.”
Heck, I think to myself, everyone else is nervous starting a sex workshop so I ask, “Jane, why aren’t you are not nervous?”
With the same calm she replies, “I do not know what will happen.” I am quickly reminded of my suburban upbringing… With what this woman has endured, a sex workshop? Piece of cake.
This is not to say that there wasn’t a constant stream of nuclear revelations going on for both of them behind the scenes.
Both Jane and Agnes were dutifully trained into absolute modesty of dress. No legs showing, never any knees. Exposed shoulders? Cause for arrest. To witness Jane and Agnes dancing sweetly, yet openly in a roomful of people dressed in the sheer, feather garnished silky gowns they borrowed from Annetta, was a private spectacle as great as Niagara Falls pouring into the Great Lakes. By mid-workshop, Jane and Agnes were slipping into feminine finery, the likes of which they had never, never imagined enjoying. Agnes, a twenty-eight year old woman, had never seen a naked man in her life, let alone a white man.
It was only after the workshop, while talking to Agnes, that I began to more fully comprehend the enormity of sexual education that was completely missing for them. Once again, Agnes became my teacher:
“It is because the women and men have no idea of how to give each other pleasure,” she explains. “What happens in my country: the men can go and get as many wives as they want, as long as they have a cow to give, they can get another wife. A man is with a woman, she does not know anything about what he needs, and she does not even have the idea to give him pleasure. The man has no idea of pleasing a woman. It is not that we are ignorant. We do not know. We do not know about pleasure and sex. It is very confusing. A woman gives birth to children. She will love her children, but she does not love the father. Because the man knows no pleasure, he goes and gets another wife, and then another, and then another. He will find maybe 6 wives. Sooner or later one will return with AIDS, and then the family dies. It is all because no one knows any pleasure.”
“Obviously, the men are not happy with this situation?” I ask.
“Of course not,” she says. “No one is happy; no one feels any pleasure at all. People come to our village with the same programs. They talk about AIDS. They talk about condoms. They do the same things over and over but what is going on does not change. No one, no one ever talks about what we are learning here. No one talks about the pleasure or the beauty sex is supposed to be.”
“Do you mean that you have never learned to give pleasure to a man?” I ask.
“It never occurred to me that you could do that.”
“Do you pleasure your self?” I ask, further astounded.
“No,” she and Jane giggle to each other. “It doesn’t occur to us to do that.”
“You know, in this we are much the same,” I say. “Women and men rarely get an education from anyone about how to be with each other. They are not taught how to respect, listen to, or communicate about their sexual needs and desires. Even with our so-called freedom here, still people fight, get divorces and cannot get along sexually because they have not learned how to communicate about their most intimate, natural sexual feelings.”
Agnes nods, “Yes. In this we are sisters. Our lives are very different, but the pain is the same pain. I see women here in this workshop feel sad because they do not understand what their men need, and I see men who are confused about how to be with their women. But they are trying to learn, and this is the difference.”
Female Genital Mutilation: The Cut
In the past, whenever I heard stories about cutting off clits, a deep cringe would sink into my own pussy. My whole lower body would wobble in disbelief as the outrage would lift to my brain and tears would swell in my heart. So, when Jane and then Agnes wanted to know what type of sexual anatomy they were, we privately went into a room to have a look.
They were so bold – they wanted to know!
We joyfully wanted to see, to share a moment of supreme sisterhood, to behold and witness each others’ most sacred place. There is only one word I can use to describe gazing at the opening of their delicate flowers:
“Beautiful” is the word that kept cascading from my lips. And then “Wow. We are all so beautiful.”
In truth, I was not sure what I would see, but in that instant all my condensed presumptions collapsed. While their clitorises were indeed gone, replaced with smooth, healed skin, everything else was entirely intact. It reminded me of seeing a circumcised man. While surely something is forever gone, what remains is certainly beautiful, functional. And still deserves and desires as much pleasure as possible. Agnes, Jane and I later laugh together, “I think people are a lot like weeds. You can try to cut them down, pull them out from cracks in the sidewalks, but we are hardy and we are going to grow some how. Our sexual energy is like this too, resilient.